I have three legal jobs. First is to provide legal assistance to military folks with any personal legal problem they might have. Most often, this is divorce or family law related, but it could include anything else such as debt problems, landlord-tenant law, military administrative matters, and a number of other legal fields. Second is the part-time military magistrate responsible for giving search authorizations or confinement orders. Third is to pay claims for damages caused by the US Government.
My claims job brings me into contact with the local Iraqis a few times every month. Twice every month I go out to the East Gate Entry Control Point (ECP), which is the only place at which Iraqi’s can walk onto the base. Most Iraqis come to work, we have several hundred who do various jobs on the base. The ECP is very tightly guarded and controlled, and there is no way anyone could bring a weapon onto the base in this area. Several heavily armed Air Force Security Force personnel stand watch, along with Ugandan guards and other security forces. So the East Gate is probably the safest place on this base.
I handle claims for anything that the US government has done to cause damage to the local Iraqis. This could be things like a cow being hit by a US convoy, a dog or car being shot by US forces, or any other acts causing damages. The most common type of issue I deal with is land use by the US of small farms around the base.
There is always a translator to help me talk with the Iraqis. I’ve learned a little bit of Arabic, with the Iraqi local color. For example, “Shlonak Eyom” means “How are you?” to which you can respond “Zen” for “fine.” Shuku Mucku means thank you. And of course, you greet people by saying “Salam Alekum,” and say goodbye by saying “Ma Salaama” (go in peace). The Iraqis around the base all know who I am, and refer to me at the nice major who pays claims. Here is a meeting I had with a group of local farmers:
The last thing they’d want is to hurt me, because I pay actual money to local Iraqis. Here is a local guy getting a wad of cash, which I photographed to prove that we did pay him:
The Iraqis here are mostly rural folks. The area around here is about half Sunni, half Shia, but everyone gets along fine. It’s quite safe out here, especially around the base. You never hear about fighting or attacks anywhere near JBB. I also get to meet local bigwigs once in a while, like this sheik-looking fellow:
I’ve learned quite a bit about local Iraqi culture. For example, around here, it is not unusual for a man to have four wives, if he can afford it. I don’t see the point of that. Most folks wear traditional clothing, especially the older people. In Baghdad, the people are much more cosmopolitan, and wear Western clothing, and usually confine themselves to marrying one wife. In the photos, above, note how the younger guys are wearing jeans and American style clothes, while the older guys are wearing his robes and khafiya head-dress.
One might say that Balad is a redneck, backwater area of Iraq. There are other parts that are even more so, of course. Balad is just a normal, mostly agricultural area.
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